Aviation Smaller airports making pleas to secure TSA funding again By Robert Silk / February 15, 2016 Share 1 The regional airport in Klamath Falls, Ore. -- Del Rio, Texas, on the Mexican border 150 miles west of San Antonio, has been without commercial air service since mid-2013. Last August, when Public Charters agreed to provide daily flights from Del Rio to Austin, which would set up a connection to Dallas, it appeared that getting in and out of the town of approximately 40,000 would become easier.Yet five months later, Del Rio still doesn’t have air service, in large part due to a Nov. 20 decision by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to not provide security for the airport. “We could offer [the Austin flight] without the TSA, but we would be losing half of our customers,” airport manager Juan Onofre said. Del Rio is one of at least three small U.S. airports to encounter these kinds of problems since late 2014. The situation led congressional representatives of the affected districts to submit companion House and Senate bills last week requiring the TSA to return to airports that have lost commercial air service since the beginning of 2013, as long as the airports have a commitment from a carrier. A bipartisan group of 10 legislators from Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Texas and Washington introduced the TSA Fairness Act on Feb. 11. Del Rio Airport in Texas is one of at least three U.S. airports where the TSA decided not to provide security. “The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport is a critical transportation link for the region, and it’s unacceptable for bureaucrats 3,000 miles away in D.C. to stand in the way of restoring commercial service,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in announcing the bill.Like Del Rio, Crater Lake-Klamath Airport wants to resume air service but had its security request turned down by the TSA. The refusals come as small airports around the country are faced with service cuts and closures as a result of the shrinking regional airline industry. Since the second quarter of 2013, 29 small airports in the continental U.S. have lost commercial service, according to the trade group American Association of Airport Executives. The closures are partially driven by a pilot shortage plaguing regional airlines. But small airports are also hurt by a shift by Delta, American and United to larger planes in their regional networks to increase efficiency. As 30-seat propeller planes continue to be replaced by 70- to 90-seat jets, more small airports unable to fill the larger planes could lose their service, analysts say. At the Klamath Falls airport, Peninsula Airways is planning to offer 12 flights a week to Portland, Ore. At Sheridan County Airport in Sheridan, Wyo., Denver Air began offering twice-daily flights on Nov. 19 to Denver, despite the TSA’s refusal to move back into Sheridan after it briefly lost commercial service last March. Passengers on the Denver Air flights travel unscreened to Denver Airport, then are taken with their luggage on a bus to the front of the airport, where they check in as if they were starting their trip there, Sheridan County Airport Director John Stopka said.The TSA sent nearly identical letters to the Del Rio, Klamath Falls and Sheridan airports saying that the agency had carefully considered their requests for federal screening services, stating, “The unpredictability of air service in the region and the inability to maintain consistent passenger loads does not provide a solid foundation for the expenditure of the funds required.” The agency noted that the airports and their carriers could provide the type of unsecured flights that Denver Air ultimately began out of Sheridan. The TSA declined an interview request; in an emailed response to questions, the agency did not provide specifics about how many airports it has declined to serve in recent years.“Over the past five years, the majority of requests for deployment of federal resources have been approved,” the agency wrote. “To determine if a small airport should be refederalized, TSA appropriately balances resources against risk and economic considerations for the deployment of federal screeners.”Andrew Malcolm, spokesman for Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican who represents Klamath Falls, said the TSA Fairness Act has been well received by leaders of the House Committee on Homeland Security.